How not to link Marseille to literature when we think of the passage of many writers fleeing Nazism but also, and especially, as the place of Arthur Rimbaud's last breath? We often forget that he arrived in Marseilles, in 1891, exhausted, coming from Aden and that he was admitted to the Hospital of Conception where his right leg was amputated. After an attempt of convalescence at his mother's house in the north, he came back very quickly to Marseilles to finally die there on November 10.
It is often forgotten that Rimbaud published only one work during his life. And that it is not in Paris but in Brussels, in 1873, that a printer published Une Saison en Enfer (A Season in Hell). Rimbaud was then 19 years old.
As a Belgian gallery -Brussels- invited by Tchikebe, printers and art publishers based in Marseilles, it seemed obvious to us to evoke this tutelary figure of the modern poetry; a figure that casts such a shadow that it still keeps today a remarkable freshness and vitality.
Rimbaud died young but did not grow old. Rimbaud died poor but the richness of his language only grew. Rimbaud died abandoned by all but he gave birth to a large family.
Une saison en Enfer: Bruxelles-Marseille is a modest tribute to Rimbaud's genius, to the percussion force and to the fulgurance of his language. Consisting of a corpus of works by artists defended by Meessen De Clercq and artists who collaborated with Tchikebe (some editions were specifically conceived for the occasion), this exhibition incites to read and reread Rimbaud.
The visitor is welcomed by an engraving of Stéphane Mandelbaum, a Belgian artist murdered at 25 years old, who was inspired by one of the rare known photos of Rimbaud in Harar in 1883. The destiny of Rimbaud as a comet is fascinating and fed the imagination of many artists. Shooting star Rimbaud? The Dutch artist Chaim van Luit with his neon STAR(VE) plays on the words between star and starve. The neon is broken and plunges us into a possibility of multiple interpretation. Ulysses by Nicolás Lamas combines mythological character and view of the universe. Like a constant, untiring search, like Ulysses, Rimbaud never stopped traveling with his head in the stars. Quest or drift? With a Heavy Heart by Chaim van Luit is a literally heavy work which contrasts with the nickname given to Rimbaud, the man with the soles of wind. For this work, the artist filled his shoes with molten lead. In addition to the expression "to have lead feet" that can be found in different languages, this work is a beautiful perspective of Rimbaud the traveler. A Rimbaud leaving the house very early to go on the roads of Europe and then of the Middle East. The Mexican artist Jorge Méndez Blake evokes by the big drawing of a poem in English the metaphorical status of the house built by every poet.
Under a glass case is a work by Ignasi Aballí, current representative of Spain at the Venice Biennale, which declines 11 colors in 6 languages with reassembled print (what could be better at Tchikebe!). In addition, Aballí has created especially for the occasion a five-color edition in black and white referring to the famous "A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels" that Rimbaud wrote in 1870-71 and that he took up again with a slight variation in A Season in Hell.
Speaking of literature, how can we not refer to the anguish of the blank page with Kelly Schacht through a beautiful photo of an almost musical lyricism? As for Thu Van Tran, with her blue photogram that carries the trace of a book, she talks to us about the association between presence and absence. Although Rimbaud was absent from the Parisian scene, his writings became known little by little to have a total presence in the literature of the 20th century.
Rimbaud went to Abyssinia dreaming of something else than literature. He stayed in Aden, city of the current Yemen, that Jordi Colomer visited in 2005 to realize Arabian Stars. For this series (now in the collection of the Centre Pompidou), Colomer asked local people from several Yemeni cities to march down the street with signs bearing the names of real or fictional characters. On this one, the protagonists are on a boat and carry a sign on which is written Zinedine Zidane. A nod to Marseilles...
The Arabic alphabet brings us to the subject of translation, a source of debate when it comes to poetry. Nicolás Lamas evokes it with successive translations of the poem La Voix by Charles Baudelaire, which he translates using the Google translation software. The text is translated from language to language (starting from French but then respecting the alphabetical order of the languages, making several complete cycles from Afrikaans to Zulu) leading gradually to a drying up and a loss of meaning. The last page reveals an ultimate text, in French, quite surprising if we think about Rimbaud's alleged life as an arms dealer in Abyssinia.
Thu Van Tran changes a consonant to give a double meaning with her work La Cavale. A V becomes a B and here is that BOOK becomes FREE. This work refers to the many prisoners, of various places and times, who clung to literature to avoid sinking into madness.
All around a saturated drawing - anxiety of the inverted white page, everything has already been said, what to write? - of Jorge Méndez Blake, works that open the interpretations on episodes of Rimbaud's life: his altercation with Verlaine in Brussels (Verlaine was incarcerated after having fired a gun at Rimbaud) (Alix Delmas), his potential Catholic conversion on his deathbed (Yann Sérandour), the place of women in his life,... For example, Nicolás Lamas, in an almost Duchampian gesture (he turns over a painting bought at the flea market to show its reverse side), unveils an enigmatic canvas representing a half-sketched silhouette. This ghostly apparition is there to remind us the presence in filigree of the only two women who seem to have been important for Rimbaud: his mother and his sister Isabelle who watched over him until the last moment.
Finally, Delphine Coindet and her month of November reminds us that Rimbaud died on November 10, 1891. She includes in her acrostic the word "Eternity" which can only remind this famous sentence of Une Saison en Enfer :
Elle est retrouvée !
- Quoi ? - L’éternité.
C’est la mer mêlée